06/03/2017 07:25 GMT | Updated 04/03/2018 05:12 GMT

Embracing The Apprenticeship Levy For A Strong Business Future

In the last six years, since I first started working for Dallaglio RugbyWorks in 2011, I have seen many examples of how a good apprenticeship scheme can be hugely beneficial to all types of businesses. Of course, the impact of a well-suited placement on an apprentice's future can be life-changing. But the gains for the business that runs the scheme can be just as big.

Through the charity's long-term skills development programme, RugbyWorks, I am part of a team that works with 14-17 year olds outside of mainstream education to help them achieve sustained education, employment or training. The programme has been rolled out in number of Alternative Provision (AP) schools across London, Newcastle, Bristol and South Wales. To meet our goals, we work with businesses to provide these young people with options they might not have otherwise, including access to quality apprenticeship placements. In fact, in 2016 we saw around 18% of the young people on our programme move into apprenticeships, versus 6% of mainstream pupils who apply; it's becoming increasingly apparent that this pathway feels achievable for this particular cohort of teenagers who, rightly or wrongly, can feel socially excluded by society.

Halfords is a solid example of a company that has benefitted from providing apprenticeships, and even employment, to young people supported by the RugbyWorks programme. In January 2015, Halfords Autocentres made its first staff appointment as a result of its partnership with Dallaglio RugbyWorks. Of course, this has been life-changing for the young person involved but also, I hope, valuable to the company which now has a talented new addition to the team.

With the apprenticeship levy approaching in April, we are keen to spread a positive message about what the increase in investment could mean for both businesses and the British workforce. The levy will require all employers operating in the UK, with a pay bill over £3m each year, to invest in apprenticeships. We recognise that this is a big ask for some, especially smaller businesses. However, it will mean that businesses of all sizes have good reason to take advantage of the investment, embrace apprenticeship schemes and train new talent. This is particularly important following recent reports of a skills shortage in some industries. According to the latest Labour Market Outlook, from the CIPD and The Adecco Group, labour and skills shortages are starting to impact UK sectors that predominantly hire EU nationals. Apprenticeship schemes could be key to plugging the gap with well-trained UK nationals.

My hope is that the levy will encourage businesses to think more carefully about implementing their own apprenticeship schemes. Even if this means only taking on one or two apprentices per year. The fact is, the longer it takes to get the levy off the ground, and the less businesses recognise it as a positive legislation, the more the pathway we feel has the most potential is blocked. If apprenticeship schemes become tainted as an irritating expense, it could be a disaster for many young people and older workers looking to retrain or enter a new field.

The tenth National Apprenticeship Week, taking place this week, presents an excellent opportunity to celebrate the previous success of apprenticeships in the UK but also to encourage companies to look forward. At Dallaglio RugbyWorks, we will be doing all we can to spread the positive side of the levy and help organisations to train new talent.